Monday, November 28, 2022

Kan. Supreme Court orders equity in school funding


Now running for state Senate in Kansas is Dinah Sykes. A Republican, she voted for Governor Sam Brownback, who is now in his second term, but she’s worried that funding cuts to public education have caused schools in the state to start slipping in quaity, the New York Times reports.

Olathe Northwest v Olathe South, September 2014 (Tom Childers / Flickr CC)

“We’re getting a bad reputation: that our state doesn’t care about public education,” the paper quoted her as saying. “We live in Kansas because of the great quality of life, the great schools, the great amenities. I want my boys to have the opportunity to have the same.”

In June the state Supreme Court ruled that the legislature had not met its constitutional mandate to finance public schools equitably, especially poorer districts with less property wealth. The court gave the state until June 30 to fix the problem or face a school shutdown.

The legislature did pass a school funding bill, which Mr Brownback signed a few days before the deadline, but there were winners and losers, including Mr Brownback on both ends of the spectrum, according to a Kansas City Star analysis.

On the one hand, Mr Brownback called the special session and knew it would take $38 million to satisfy the state Supreme Court’s order to constitutionally finance K-12 education. But he also complained loudly about the court’s involvement in school funding even though the justices were only interpreting the state’s constitution, which is their job.

A few school superintendents from more affluent districts also came out looking bad. They backed a Republican plan that would have trimmed school spending by $13 million. This was a bizarre way for Republicans to say they were solving a school funding dilemma by giving less money to education.

I wish Ms Sykes good luck with her campaign this November. As with many states, though, Republicans who get elected to a second term interpret their popularity as a mandate from voters to continue to cut taxes, despite decades of evidence that tax cuts inevitably result in cuts to the public schools.

“That’s OK, since all we need is competition from charters and private schools, which we’ll fund with some derivative of a voucher program,” they say. And voters believe that cutting taxes is possible without commensurate cuts to the public schools.

Then governors start blaming unions and talking about reducing the power teachers’ unions have. “They’re the root of all evil, and they don’t care about educating your kids or about innovating in their classrooms,” voters hear.

“Since taking office, Governor Brownback has increased state funding to schools every year, investing more than $4 billion—approximately half of the state’s budget—in K-12 funding,” the Times quoted Eileen Hawley, a spokeswoman for Mr Brownback, as saying. “At the same time, he has returned more local control to those closest to the classroom—teachers and parents—so they have more direct control over how funds are spent to benefit students.”

Those spending increases, though, have failed to keep pace with increasing costs, educators say. Ms Sykes said this has resulted in a situation where kids have been asked to bring library books instead of cupcakes to school whenever they celebrate birthdays. The reason? Schools have stopped buying library books to save what little money they have in their budgets, which is needed to meet the rising costs for transportation and other school supplies.

And despite claims of the governor’s spokesperson, the Times says per-pupil state aid in Kansas has dropped from $4,400 to $3,800 since Mr Brownback took office in 2011, according to the Kansas branch of the National Education Association, even amid rising healthcare and other costs for school districts across the state. They make do with what they have.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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